COLUMBIA – The importance of the Tax Increment Financing Commission’s vote on the the redevelopment of two downtown properties was quickly apparent at the Columbia Board of Education’s meeting Monday, when the board decided to change plans and take a vote on the issue instead of just hear a report.
The board’s two votes on the commission – belonging to Superintendent Jim Ritter and Board of Education Vice President Tom Rose – will go against the tax-increment financing plans for The Tiger Hotel and the Tenth and Locust projects when the commission meets Tuesday.
“You do understand we’re outnumbered,” Ritter said, referring to the possibility that other commission members will vote for the projects.
While acknowledging that Ritter and Rose are only one-fifth of the vote for Tuesday , board members and citizens came forward to show support for the votes against the measures.
“We’re only two votes out of 10, but it’s a very strong block,” board member Ines Segert said. “The City Council will vote with the knowledge that the school district is very opposed.”
Rose, who spoke for the Columbia Public Schools at a tax increment financing public hearing last week, said the district wouldn’t come out against the plans if the commission chose to support the proposals and if the school district were willing to make current sacrifices for “long-term gains.”
But the strong response the district received from the public and further review of the matter brought the issue to the agenda and brought the board members to a unanimous vote against it at the meeting, the members said.
Board members also discussed what was best for the district overall and the support they could lose if they approved the measure.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we do this,” Segert said.
The board heard from parents, Columbia Public School graduates and downtown business owners when they opened up the discussion to the public.
Mike Keevins, a father of four children in Columbia Public Schools, talked about what he reads in the paper about the financial woes of the school district and his concerns with more money being taken away from the district.
Fred DeMarco, a downtown business owner who also spoke at the public hearing, came out strongly against the tax increment financing plan and said that with such a significant portion of the finances involved affecting the schools, the school board's vote is important.
“Everyone here should be on the board,” DeMarco said.
He also urged people to follow the issue all the way through, should the commission vote in support of the plans.
“It’s just as important to go to City Council,” DeMarco said.
Several business owners came forward with concerns about the precedent that could be set if the proposals are passed. They stressed the value of downtown property and said that development would naturally come to the area because of that.
“The area is going to be developed,” DeMarco said. “You don’t need a TIF.”
DeMarco said passing financing plans such as these would “eat away at the tax base” of the Columbia Public Schools.
While the city recommends a 12-year limit on the financing plans, both properties are asking for the maximum time allowed, which is 23 years.
Board members also discussed the lack of support from their constituents for the financing plan. Board member Christine King expressed concern that vocal groups and individuals wouldn’t help out the school board when it needed it if the board approved the measure.
This was echoed at the end of the discussion when Ritter asked everyone to come out and show dedication and support if the board needed to create tax levies in the future.